James Dwyer or "Big James Dwyer of Grange"

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

James Dwyer


Recalling the house that Jack built

Times Past in South Carlow with Willie White

 THE names of the villages and townlands of Carlow, or any other County for that matter, have always aroused  interest  regarding their meaning. Many a place-name has suffered in the translation from the Irish to the English. Generally speaking, the English version of a name differs from the true meaning of the old Irish word.

There is also the case where we have grown used to a name without ever thinking how it came about. Several villages begin with the word Cluain which means meadow and we find others beginning with the word Cill meaning wood, or sometimes, with the different spelling meaning church.

Another word which we find in many parts of the country is Grange, Grangeford, Grangecon, Kill of the Grange, etc. The Grange was usually the place associated with Monks who were always away from the Abbey.

Grange in County Carlow is often written as Grangeford. It is thought that the name is derived from a Rath in the vicinity. In the Name Book, it is down as "Fardurraghagranchy Castle". Grainche - a Castle, or Forth or Rath. Farrdurragha means "a dark man", hence "The Castle of the Dark man of Grange".

Fardurraghagranchy Castle, Grangeford. Co Carlow

Beside the road from Grangeford to Friarstown (another connection with the Friars or Monks) is the "Plain of Ballygorey". It was here on February 13, 1395 that a group of Irish chiefs, including King Art MacMurrough, O'Byrne, O'Nolan, O'Moore and O'Connor met Sir Thomas Mowbray, the representative of Richard the Second and vowed allegiance to that King. How long they kept that vow, if they ever had any intention of keeping it, is another story.

In the 1800's there lived at Grangeford a man known as James Dwyer or "Big James Dwyer of Grange", and he was sometimes referred to as "Dwyer the Wrestler", and was the acknowledged champion wrestler of Ireland. James was six feet three inches tall and weighed in at just over 16 stone. He was often challenged for his title and took on all comers. They always returned 'sadder but wiser men'.

Out-and-out sportsman

Dwyer's wrestling was always above suspicion, he was an out-and-out sports-man, and could not tolerate foul play in anybody. This was not always the case with his opponents. Sometimes James came up against a wrestler who thought he knew a few tricks that James did not.

This they soon found out was a big mistake and the growled warning "two can play that game" usually had the desired effect and the match ended cleanly.

However, on one occasion when he was taking part in a big match in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, his opponent, a Dublin wrestler, tried to play a foul game. He got the usual warning but replied that he would break James in pieces. He tried, but he didn't and when the match was over so was his wrestling career for he never entered the ring again.

Wrestling was in Dwyer's blood, for his father, known as "John Dwyer the Wrestler" was, it was said, in his day more powerful than his famous son. Both father and son lived to be very old men. James died in 1881. They are buried at the Rath, Grangeford.

Wrestling and sport were not the only strong points in the life of James Dwyer, he was also a quick thinker and could hold his own with some of the so-called smart men. The following story is worth relating concerning his ability to get things done.

Court dispute over land

During the early 1800's disputes over land were common in Ireland. Law cases were the order of the day, and sometimes the result of the case was a foregone conclusion. It was in such a case that a strange episode in the life of James Dwyer occurred.

The Dwyer family claimed ownership of a parcel of land at Grangeford. A law suit sprung up about the ownership, and the case was tried at the Carlow Quarter Sessions. All day the case for and against the Dwyer family swung one way and then the other.

Towards evening, James was informed by his solicitor that he would win the case if a dwelling house had existed on the farm, but as there was no house on the land the case would go against him. He also informed James that there was no use saying there was a house in existence as the Judge intended driving out the next morning to the farm to see for himself before giving his decision. In the circumstances, the solicitor suggested that they should save expense by withdrawing before the court adjourned.

James replied "You don't know the Grange people" and headed for home at once. He arrived in Grange about seven o'clock on a winter's evening and quickly set about collecting the neighbours for miles around. He collected people of all occupations - carpenters, masons, thatches, farmers, labourers, colleens holding turpentine torches, horses, etc. There was very little talk, all present knew what was required, work was started immediately.

The sound of the saw, the ring of the hammer, and the scraping of the shovel along with murmers of encouragement went on all through the winter night and a little after seven o'clock the following morning the Dwyer family and friends were having a well earned meal in the house.

During the night the "Wrestler" himself was kept busy distributing bottles of "Cumfort" to the workers.

Utter amazement

As dawn broke the clearing up took place and with the help of a little covering up the house looked as if it had been there for years. The Judge arrived in due course and found the house perfect, to the utter amazement of the other contending party. Now it was back to Carlow where the Judge delivered his verdict, stating that the land was now the property of James Dwyer.

The building was known from that day on as "The House that Jack Built". James' father, John Dwyer, who was then living, was the real proprietor. James married a Miss Hanlon, Baunogh, and their descendants resided in the place for many years. The "House that Jack Built" was added to considerably in later times. A portion of that famous old house was to be seen for many years.

The Dwyers

(O'Dhubdhaire) deduce their descent from Cormac Cas, second son of Oliol Ollumand his wife, Sabh, daughter of Con of the Hundred Battles. Irish historians set down Cormac Cas as remarkable for strength of body, dexterity, and courage. Perhaps it was from him that James got his strength, his love of sport and his quickness of thought.

 Source: Times Past in South Carlow with Willie White published in The Nationalist Oct 1998

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